Thirteen Reasons Why

Boy, talk about seeing things from the other side!

I started watching this Netflix show, ready to tear it apart.  In turn, it did its level best to tear me apart.  I’m going to call it a draw.

First of all, I think it was well written. The intrigue and how the plot develops, with various characters not knowing for sure how other characters will react, keeps the story moving forward. In some ways it is a bit too “teen-angsty” and maybe a little soap-operatic. But I will overlook that, because it drew out some important dynamics. It certainly made me glad to be homeschooling my teenage daughters!!  

I will try to be a bit general so as not to “spoil” the entire plot.  I will say, for any future viewers, that there were three scenes from which I had to guard my heart.  I looked away from the screen, and let the audio tell me the story.  It is haunting enough on its own. Fortunately, it was pretty obvious when these scenes were coming. And on the last one, I even muted the audio for a little bit. (I got the idea.) There is a cautionary message at the beginning of these episodes.  Also, bad language is used quite frequently.

Second, I have a feeling that this story is a bit of a Rorschach test for the viewer. It hits each of us differently, depending on whether we are most strongly the bully, the bullied, or the bereaved.

The bullies

One striking thing about this tale is the self-interest — the self-protection — the self-worship of many of the 13 people.  Some of them used her or threw her under the bus to please or protect themselves. They dismissed or discarded her when she didn’t suit their selfish interests. Even later, as they colluded to prevent Hannah’s testimony from getting out, each was thinking of himself. Some didn’t even have that much to lose, but they were willing to sin to keep their reputation in place.  This is a brutally honest reflection our culture, which, in turn, reflects our nature.  Make a mistake? Don’t admit it. Hurt someone? Blame it on them for being in the wrong place.

The Gospel compels us to do differently.  We are to confess our sins, admit our mistakes, make amends, and show grace. We are to defend the weak, not serve the idol of popularity.  Hopefully this show will cause many to think about this in their specific life circumstances and how we may be clinging too tightly to idols of social standing.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly….”  James 4:1-3

The bereaved

Another powerful phenomenon here was the conflict of Clay.  He wanted to draw closer to Hannah, but he was insecure. “If only” he had known how weak she was, he thinks in retrospect, he would have been stronger for her.  But since he didn’t know, he remained stuck in his own insecurity.  Could he have done better?  Of course.  We can all learn from his regret.  And her parents? Ditto, only they were not insecure, just distracted by the cares and worries of this world.

My friend Julie taught me the concept of “moving toward” other people. Boy, does that go against my nature! I want to hide, to stay below the radar. When people are ugly or mean, I want to run away.  But the power of the Gospel is in moving toward.  While we were yet sinners, Christ laid down His life and died for us. No one took it from Him, but He gave it up because it was the only price that would suffice. Not suicide, but sacrifice. Not selfish, but selfless. Not self-absorbed, but pouring Himself out. Not retreating, but pushing back against evil in order to gain the victory –our entry into His presence. As we walk out our identity as Christ-followers, we can look for ways to move toward others in love.

Even if we are not bullying people or using them, are we noticing them? This show inspires me to look at people with more care, give them more time. Not because some dramatic Hollywood thing might happen if I don’t, but because that is what we all need.  That is what Jesus did. He looked at people and He loved them.

The bullied  

By the end of the show, I could see that Hannah was a victim of many things. Some acts committed against her were heartless and should never have been done. Some words or actions she received were accidental, unintentional messages that she was not important. Those people should not necessarily feel “responsible for her death,” as she puts it, but they should be sobered by how our selfishness can affect others.

Hannah had a moment where she decided to take her life. She spent several days planning it out and crafting a message to leave behind for those who hurt her, or disappointed her.  Because of this, I would say that she took her life to spite other people. Yes, she was sad, and lonely to the extreme. But she did have people in her life who cared.  If she had told her parents she was suffering, they certainly would have set their own drama aside to serve her. An acquaintance even reached out to her at the very end–a moment that could have been a turning point. But she was being a bit, well, stubborn by then. The pain of rejection and objectification by people who didn’t know her well clouded out her ability to see the love she was receiving from those who knew her better.  She had recorded this whole narrative in which 13 people were “responsible for her death,” and she believed it. In her mind, there was only one ending.

The Bottom Line

“Fine. Whatever.” I have said this, in my mind our out loud. It is a complete dismissal of the other person, their case, their offer; a statement that I am just not going to try anymore.  It is a cop out!  Hannah basically said this to the last person she approached. What could he have done differently to change her mind?  The people who did care about her would have had to supernaturally read her mind and respond by breaking beyond all social norms in order to turn her around.  

Don’t let this be you.  On any level, even if you have never considered suicide, don’t take on this toxic mentality.

Don’t take things so personally that you punish yourself to spite others.  And, while you’re at it, check to make sure that the person bullying you the most isn’t YOU. (Thanks to my friend Jennie for this insight!)

Don’t let people assault you (in any sense of the word) without fighting back. Even if you were unable to speak up at the time and the only fighting back you can do is after the fact, fight back. Fight for justice–and on a higher level, fight for the soul of the broken, sinful person who hurt you. Fight for reconciliation, when possible. Consider the words of  Peter:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

Fight against the schemes of the devil.

Don’t suffer alone.  Talk to someone. If that person doesn’t listen or doesn’t have time for you or makes you feel worse, talk to someone else until you find hope.  It is a true blessing to your brothers and sisters in Christ when you share your burden, state your need, and give them an opportunity to come alongside and help you.

In closing, I hope that anyone reading this can finish these sentences and think about how to live them out. Either you have the verses memorized, or you may need to seek out the answers from a Bible, the Bible Gateway site, or a Bible-believing friend. In contrast to the world that we typically see in Hollywood, the Gospel of Jesus Christ turns so much of how we live completely upside down…for Good.

In all your ways acknowledge Him…. (Proverbs 3:6)

Resist the devil…. (James 4:7)

Blessed are those who mourn…. (Matthew 5:4)

Our father in heaven… (Matthew 6:9)

Ask, and it will…. (Matthew 7:7)

Do not be anxious about your own life… (Matthew 6:25)

 

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The Why of Guy

Once I was 18 years old.  I thought I was pretty smart and tough.  Right then, God brought this person named Guy into my life who blew my mind.  It’s complicated to explain, but suffice it to say that just by being himself, he made me realize some ways in which I was being…well, a phony.  I wasn’t out to impress people, but I did have so many walls up!  Guy inspired me to be a more sincere person, no matter what that looked like.

He had experienced some terrible pain in his short life–losing his own father–and he was pretty honest about his feelings in his poems. This inspired me to write, as well, and to talk to God about things I had never faced before.

For one great summer we shared our hearts and our faith. We hung out a lot (NO makeout sessions whatsoever!) trying to figure out how to be deep with one another and wanting to be close, without being sappy. At the end of that summer, we each had to go away to college hundreds of miles apart, so we wrote a lot of  letters.  (We didn’t have easy access to email in the mid-90’s , and phone calls cost 10 cents a minute!)  We got to see each other only briefly on the summer break, and went back to our separate colleges.  Our closeness remained, though, as we kept sharing with one another any and all spiritual lessons, hopes for the future, etc.

And then, in January of our sophomore year, he died.  

Just like that.  No warnings, no goodbyes.  God just took him. His heart stopped while he was alone in his bed.  No one had known he was at risk.

By God’s grace I handled it pretty well, with a great support system and some closure after the fact.  How would I have handled it with all those walls up, the ones he had broken down? Even decades later, I can say that the loss definitely changed my life.  I remember thinking, God must have a reason for me to be here.  If He didn’t, I guess I’d be gone, too.

Now, a person might say, “God, that relationship was sooo good! Why did You have to take it away?”

Asking that question is not bad, for God can handle our questions.  Because of this blog, however, something profound occurred to me:  what does this particular situation look like from the other side?

God only knows. Perhaps, though, we could see it this way:

God knew the exact moment that He was going to take Guy home to Himself.

Knowing, this, He chose to use Guy do something powerful in my life, first.  

So instead of saying “why did you give your child Laurel such a  great friend and then take him away?” we could be saying “what a wise and powerful way to use one child of God to bless another child of God!” Even though things didn’t progress the way I thought they would, I can say that God gave me a very, very good gift.  

Of course, God did more than just “use” Guy. He blessed him with comfort, too.  And,  I realize that mine was not the only life that was touched by him.  At the funeral in his college state, I met some of his peers. All of us are who we are, in part, because of how God used Guy in our lives.

Glory be to the One who knows all things. In him we live, and move, and have our being.  I will never know all the things He knows, but using my sanctified imagination in this way frees me up to trust Him.

What can you try to see from the other side today?

 

…But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

2 Corinthians 13:10-12

guypic-3Hi-quality snapshot of Guy, my high school best friend Jessica, and me.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

So many people seem to be making a living on NOT having any sympathy or understanding for the other side. This is leading to increased division, a loss of civility, the thriving of internet trolls, and the epidemic of cyber-bullying.  It’s time for us to stretch our minds, use our creativity, and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I’ll admit, sometimes that is hard. Pretend you are looking through a paper towel tube, and all you can see is the thing that is annoying you. You have to turn into an ant, crawl to the other end, turn around and look back.

Or, if you just said “HUH??” to that idea, do whatever you have to do to SEE THE OTHER SIDE.  

Today’s topic:

Not using your turn signal!  

I have silently heaped scorn upon perfect strangers for this act of negligence since the day I earned my driver’s license.  

One day, a few years ago, the strangest thing happened.  A fuse or something went out in our Volkswagen, and the turn signals stopped working.  Nothing else stopped working; just the turn signals.  Horror!  After all that judging of others, suddenly I was the person not using the turn signal!  

Before we managed to get the problem fixed, I found myself at a green light in a very busy town, needing to turn left, just after dusk so no one could see my hand signals. (The left turn signal, I mean! Not that other hand signal that drivers sometimes use.)  There I was, sitting in the middle of the intersection, NOT at a protected left, NOT in a dedicated left-turn lane, NOT seeing a break in the oncoming traffic, and NOT indicating that I wanted to turn left.  The person behind me honked long and loud. I simultaneously wanted to (a) apologize, (b) crawl under a rock, or (c) walk back there and give that honker a piece of my mind. (Yes, I can be a bit of a spitfire.)

Anyhow, there is just ONE instance for you of why a person may not be using her turn signal.  Let’s consider some others:

  • The driver is sad. She just had a tragedy in her family and she is on auto-pilot, which unfortunately does not include operating that lever on the left.  When your mind is on a life-altering event, such things seem irrelevant.
  • The driver is distracted. Granted, we should all avoid bringing distractions to our driving, but sometimes distractions show up uninvited. Perhaps her left hand is busy swatting at a spider, or scratching an urgent itch between her shoulder blades.
  • It’s possible that the driver doesn’t think a turn signal is necessary in the particular occasion, such as changing lanes.  Maybe her driver’s ed instructor sat and read magazines at the back of the class and let the students all chit-chat after their parents paid through the nose. (True story – from a friend.)
  • Maybe she is on her way to the store to buy more blinker fluid??

For all you know, that driver may use her turn signal 99% of the time, and you may have witnessed an anomaly.

If any of these thoughts help you to take a breath and find some chill, and keep you from judging too harshly a person you have never met, then I am happy to have posted this little thought bubble.

And, if you meet anyone who literally does not know how to use a turn signal, please use these helpful resources! 🙂

http://www.wikihow.com/Use-Your-Turn-Signal

Instruction by helpful police officer

 

 

Merge Time!

Merging

This topic is from my friend Laurie: merging in this high-traffic area. How do YOU handle it?

Let’s start with the Demure Driver who sees the “merge left” sign and immediately moves to the left lane. Meanwhile, about 49 cars proceed to zip past her on the right, and she finds herself feeling a bit resentful.  No wonder traffic is backed up during rush hour! All these cars are cutting in at the front of the line!  She feels it would be fair to allow one or two cars in front of her, but not ten or twenty!  She starts to wish she had a much wider vehicle, so she could just block both lanes and keep any more people from getting in front of her. She inches closer to the car in front of her, hoping to prevent these rude drivers from butting in, but they simply squeeze in further up the line.

Now, pan over to Efficient Operator, who sees the same “merge left” sign and takes that as a warning that eventually the road will narrow.  He sees that there are two lanes of traffic, and he understands that, like water, the high volume of traffic should take up those two lanes until it is forced into a smaller pipeline. At that point, they would ideally do an “alternate merge,” but seeing that there are a lot more cars in the left lane than the right, he chooses the right lane and flows on up to the ultimate merge point.  Some days, he has some trouble squeezing in; it seems that the people on the left don’t seem to want to merge. He finds that inefficient and, frankly, annoying.

Do you identify with one of these?  Do you feel frustration with the other?  Do you see both sides?  Comment below!  But remember the rule: BE NICE OR LEAVE.

And send me your pet peeves for future posts.